For every Saint Laurent, Dior, and Versace, there is a Coco Chanel, Miuccia Prada, and, well, another female Versace. In this regard, fashion can be seen as one place where the playing field is even for both men and women, at least, when it comes to designing. Female designers have, of course, been responsible for a lot of the advances that have shaped how modern women dress. From Coco Chanel's pantsuits to Donatella Versace's audacious, barely-there dresses, there are many female designers in between who have made their mark on modern fashion for both men and women.
Donatella Versace is instantly knowable by both her first and last name, as she has risen to a level of fame and renown that breaks through the isolated world of fashion. Her name can be found variously in Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, as well as in rap lyrics and videos, since she has made high-fashion both attainable but, at the same time, an extravagant symbol of gaudy success. Her style follows in her brother's footsteps - colorful, sexy, and many-layered - while offering her own personal sense of glam.
Stella Mccartney is a pioneer of sustainable fashion, which is what she has been doing her whole career. Starting in 2000, the designer reworked the name-recognition of her famous father to become a serious name in fashion with her not only ethically-sourced, all-vegan line, but for her Haute couture instincts that blended eco-friendly with high-fashion. Stella has also become an inspiration for other female designers for not only her designs, but her success as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.
Betsey Johnson's own personal style screams out unconventional, but it was a style that borrowed from many places and turned into something uniquely Johnson. The former cheerleader and art student took a bit of Andy Warhol's pop influences, blended it with a British punk aesthetic, and threw in some California sunshine for good measure. As if her whimsical, colorful clothes weren't enough of a personal imprint, she also does cartwheels at the end of her shows.
Rather than being a paragon of the bourgeois idea of beauty, Miuccia Prada has sought to elevate ugliness, or rather, the things that polite society would deem ugly like socks and sandals, huge, platform shoes or upholstery prints. The granddaughter of her house's founder, Mario Prada, brought her family out of their aristocratic leanings, pushed it into the age of post-modernism, and re-defined what luxury meant in the 21st century.
The New York-born designer recently turned 70, and has, since her breakout during the 80s and 90s, turned her attention more toward philanthropic and charitable efforts, as well as her lifestyle brand, Urban Zen. But her mark on the fashion industry and women's fashion shows no signs of fading away. Karan eschewed the trends toward uncomfortable luxury and made clothes that she wanted to wear - comfortable, confident, and stylish.
The former Her Serence Highness Diane Von Furstenburg (she lost her royal title when she divorced her first husband) is known for her style (chic, but sensible), as much as for her namesake's collections. Born in Belgium to a mother who survived a tragedy, the designer made her mark in the early 70s with the wrap dress and then went on to create other businesses, including a publishing house and her fragrance.
The name says it all. What hasn't been said about the French couturier that hasn't already been said? Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel started as a seamstress and part-time cabaret singer. She opened a salon in a small store-front in 1910 and ten years later bought the entire building. She borrowed heavily from the men in her life - their cologne bottles, whiskey flasks, and clothes - to find a way to heighten femininity by making it more masculine, if that even makes sense.
There was a time, starting in the mid-90s, where you would hear only one name when stars were asked what they were wearing as they walked down the red carpet of an award show: Vera Wang. Having made her mark with celebrity backers like Sharon Stone, Michelle Obama, Madonna, and Victoria Beckham, Vera Wang, the former figure skating champion, also made her name by reinventing the wedding gown, making one of her bridal dresses a much sought-after item for brides-to-be.
Everyone knows that punk was a fashion before it became everything else it became, right? And the person largely responsible for synthesizing the clothes and the sounds that eventually became punk was Vivienne Westwood. The working-glass girl from Cheshire helped shape punk style with her partner in crime Malcolm McLaren who also founded the Sex Pistols. Over the years, Westwood has remained an activist and unrepentant punk, while also appearing on pop culture touchstones like "Sex In The City."
The influential Rei Kawakubo is someone who does not strive to make male or female clothes. She prefers to make clothes that question gender norms while featuring artful touches like odd protrusions or wavy, formless dresses that exist almost on their own. The founder of fashion and style powerhouse, Comme des Garçons, Kawakubo, has stepped back from making new collections. However, some of her best work is currently on display at the Met, an honor which has only been given to one other designer while they were still alive: Yves Saint Laurent.
The former head of French fashion houses Céline and Chloé, respectively, Phoebe Philo did what all influential designers do when they are in charge of a storied fashion brand: re-invent it. Philo infused two mainstays of French fashion with more sensuality and character than they were previously known for, while not overdoing it with vamp or kitsch. She left Celine in 2018, and word is she is thinking of starting her own label.
The storied Venezuelan designer's style is perhaps best described as the antithesis of Donatella Versace's in-your-face gaudiness. Herrera embodies beauty and refinement, with a near-angelic grace to her every creation. Herrera's collections are for Princesses and European aristocrats as much as they are for movie stars and pop singers. The designer was first recognized for her own flawless style before making the transition to designing her own fashion line.
What do you get if you take a super-radicalized Vivienne Westwood, add a little environmentally-friendly Stella Mccartney along with a dash of Betsey Johnson's irreverence? The answer: Katharine Hamnett. The British, no-holds-barred designer, wears her politics, literally. Starting with the bold-face, block letters spelling out slogans like “GLOBAL GREEN DEAL NOW,” this highly-divisive, but passionate designer continues using clothes to fight for a more just world.
The Olsen twins are kind of like the Quentin Tarantino of fashion, in that they reach deep into the history of fashion with all its forgotten practices and techniques, and find a way to reinvent them for modern audiences. From this knowledge, they launched their fashion line, The Row, in 2007 and have since become designers to be reckoned with for their glamorous but refined and well-tailored clothes.
A contemporary of her compatriots Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada, Alberta Ferretti is someone who also departed from conventional styles of her time to create something closer to her own vision. She came from a solidly bourgeois mindset but came to embrace fashion as an artful pursuit, as much as a status symbol for the rich. Her long gowns draped women in layers that were both elegant and functional, which is something reflected by her style as well.
Which are these female designers are your favorite? Are there any that you would have liked to have seen on this list? Let us know in the comments section below. Female fashion designers have been an integral part of inspiring and often, transforming the way that women present themselves to the world, how could they not be? From the pants-wearing Coco Chanel to the wrap dress of DVF that became a staple of every women's wardrobe, these designers not only sought to make creations that were "beautiful" but also complex, and layered with meaning.